SUBJECTS — U.S. – 1991 to Current; Diversity; California; Literary Devices: Irony;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Mother/Son;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect;
AGE: 15+; MPAA Rating — R for language, sexual content and some violence;
Drama; 2004; 112 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide:
Fast paced and well-presented, this film interweaves incidents of prejudice based on race and ethnicity during 36 hours in modern-day Los Angeles. Multi-linear in format, the actions of the characters careen between the base and degraded to the admirable and heroic, painting a picture of the complexity of race and ethnic relations in America. A fine sense of irony pervades many of the stories.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 2006 Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Achievement in Film Editing; Best Writing, Original Screenplay; Academy Awards Nominations: Best Achievement in Directing; Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song; Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Matt Dillon);
Featured Actors: Karina Arroyave as Elizabeth; Dato Bakhtadze as Lucien; Sandra Bullock as Jean Cabot; Don Cheadle as Det. Graham Waters; Art Chudabala as Ken Ho; Sean Cory as Motorcycle Cop; Tony Danza as Fred; Keith David as Lt. Dixon; Loretta Devine as Shaniqua Johnson; Matt Dillon as Officer John Ryan; Jennifer Esposito as Ria; Ime Etuk as Georgie; Eddie J. Fernandez as Officer Gomez; William Fichtner as Flanagan;
Director: Paul Haggis.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Crash illuminates the concept that prejudice is not limited to the ignorant and the cruel and that racists are often the victims of racism. It shows the multi-level nature of prejudice. It shows that those who see themselves as free of prejudice can be cruel or violent in a given moment based on racial or ethnic bias. The film is an excellent platform for discussions of prejudice based on race or ethnicity.
Through discussion, reflection, and writing assignments, students will explore their own attitudes as well as those of society as a whole. They will analyze irony as a tool to communicate theme.
This film is R rated, and some parents, as well as students, may have difficulty with the degradation that is suffered by the victims of prejudice. Teachers must be sure to have signed parental approval forms prior to showing the film.
Watch the movie with your child. Discuss how racism played a role in any of the incidents, such as the off-duty police officer who shot the young black man in his car.
Helpful Background Here.
USING THE MOVIE IN THE CLASSROOM
Introducing the Film
Divide the class into groups of four students and give them the following list of prompts. Instruct students to share answers in open dialogue with one another. After the allotted group time ends, have students in each group select an answer for each prompt that is most illustrative and share it with the class as a whole. In classes in which group work is problematic, the prompts may be addressed in writing.
Other than in the media, where have you seen racism? Consider experiences in your school or among people you know in your family or community. Describe a representative example.
Which groups of people, not necessarily which races, do you feel are most affected by bigoted comments or actions in the current culture? Describe a representative example.
Where did you or someone you know learn to disdain or otherwise be repulsed by character traits of any cultural group? Give an example.
Briefly narrate a time in which you held onto a bigoted notion and then released it because of some mind opening experience, whether in your life, in film, through literature or another learning opportunity.
After the group work and report is completed, read, project onto the whiteboard or distribute the following poem to the class. Tell the students to pay attention to incidents or episodes in the film that may be as impactful to the individuals experiencing them as this one in Cullen’s poem is to the eight-year-old child.
By Countee Cullen
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
Remind students of the old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Engage in student discussion of the old saying in terms of what the eight year old boy in Baltimore experienced. Ask for sharing of similar experiences from students.
Finally, introduce the students to the concept of Double Consciousness which occurs when there is a marked difference between the way a person views himself and the way he is viewed by the larger society. As formulated by W.E.B. DuBois in his 1908 book, The Souls of Black Folk. DuBois writes:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
Students will better understand the concept of Double Consciousness through examples that apply to them directly. Teenage girls may see themselves as good students who are shopping for mascara, whereas clerks at the high-end makeup counter see the girls as probable shoplifters. Black students at elite colleges may see themselves as scholars, while some on the campus will see them as having been enrolled because of Affirmative Action and therefore less qualified than others. An unwed mother abandoned by the father of her child may see herself as a parent striving to provide a good home for her child, while another person may see her as an irresponsible and loose woman who is mooching off the welfare system. An immigrant working off the books may be striving to be an honorable father helping his family survive, while citizens may see him as an alien unwanted presence and a potential drain on the welfare system. It doesn’t matter whether any set of perceptions are true or whether there is truth in both. Once an individual understands that other people perceive him in a way that is different from his self-perception, double consciousness can ensue.
Teachers may evoke examples from individual students to further illustrate the concept of Double Consciousness. In each example, it is important to note that the way others see an individual is brought into his or her own way of seeing the self.
Then show the movie.
1. Which racial incident in the film do you feel may be as impactful as the one told in the poem?
All responses, well supported, are acceptable.
2. Which character in the film best illustrates through action or dialogue the problem of Double Consciousness?
Anthony indicated Double Consciousness as he noted how the District Attorney’s wife pulls her purse and herself closer to her husband when she sees two black men approaching. He says that he and his friend Peter may be U.C.L.A. students but the woman thinks they are carrying guns and are dangerous. He resents this viewpoint and the racism it holds, yet he carjacks the automobile of the white woman and her husband.
3. What does the storyline of Officer Hansen tell the audience about racism? Where is the irony in this incident?
It tells us that racism is many-layered and pervasive. Despite his efforts to fight racism, Officer Hansen still harbored racist attitudes. Hansen didn’t believe a black man would like ice hockey or be a Country and Western music fan. He became distrustful of Peter when Peter didn’t match his stereotypes of black people. Hansen “profiled” Peter and expected him to have a gun when Peter reached for his Saint Christopher medal. The irony is that Hansen had shown courage in fighting racism in the past, as when he had thwarted what appeared to be “death by cop” behavior on the part of Cameron Thayer. Yet Hansen kills a black man because of his preconceived notions about whether blacks can like certain types of music or certain sports and whether they are likely to have guns in their pockets. The irony here is that of all the incidents in the film caused by racism, the most devastating result occurs due to the racism of a man who has in other situations tried not to be racist and has shown courage in his actions.
4. Which attempts at redemption in the film are most ironic and what do they show about racism?
Officer Ryan, who had molested Christine Thayer in front of her husband, is on the scene when Christine rolls her car and is trapped inside. As flames approach the vehicle, he risks his life to save her despite her initial protestations and his prior racist-sexual assault. It is ironic that the man who risks his life to save Mrs. Thayer is the same man who sexually assaulted her in another situation. This incident, like the incident with Officer Hansen, shows that racism, like other attitudes in life, is multi-layered in that a person who acts in a racist manner in one situation will not apply his racism in another.
5. Describe an incident of irony in the movie other than what has been previously discussed in class. Which of them shows the multi-layered nature of how humans react to different situations, i.e., that they can act badly in some situations and very well in others.
See questions 2 and 3. Other ironies include the following: It is ironic that Anthony, who has been mercenary and just looking to make a quick buck for the entire film, declines the $500 per illegal immigrant he is offered for the people chained to the truck and becomes their emancipator. It is ironic that the only one to help the D.A.’s wife when she had fallen was the Mexican maid about whom the wife had been so dismissive earlier. It is ironic that the D.A.’s wife calls the maid her only friend. It is ironic that the bullets in the Persian shopkeeper’s gun are blanks and that although he intends to kill the locksmith, his failure to injure anyone saves him.
Other ELA Questions
6. Who or what is the protagonist in this film?
This is one of the few stories with no individual who can qualify as “the protagonist.” It could be said that everything that is good in the human spirit is the protagonist. It could also be said that there are many protagonists.
7. Who or what is the antagonist in this film?
Prejudice is the antagonist.
More on Prejudice
8. What examples of racism can you find in the film that are used to advance a political agenda?
The District Attorney does not want it known that the carjackers are black; he wants to place a black officer in an important position in the investigation, and he wants to cover up the crimes of a black officer in order to avoid the appearance of racism.
9. Is any character purged of his or her racism through actions that he takes in this story? Is any character fully redeemed?
Answers may differ. This is the response TWM would give. No character is purged of racism. Perhaps through the fire of his guilt, Hansen will see his way through it. Some of the characters are able to redeem some of their bad actions. These include Officer Ryan who redeems his sexual assault on Christine Thayer by his heroic actions in saving her. The D.A.’s wife might treat her maid better, but she is such an angry and flawed character that this one epiphany probably won’t change her personality. The same is true for Anthony. After setting the illegal immigrants free, he’ll probably go back to thieving. Is there any indication that he has an inclination to do anything else?
See also Question #1, below, under “Respect” and Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
1. What do you make of the relationship between Detective Waters and his mother?
Responses may differ. Some will say that she was just a delusional, lost soul and a drug addict. Others may point assert that Waters had rejected his family and his race in trying to be white.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
1. Is there any major character in this film who isn’t prejudiced in some way?
Not really, and that’s the point. Students may say that the locksmith doesn’t display prejudice. However, he’s just in the movie to be the subject of the racism of several other characters. The point is that we all have vestiges of racism and prejudice that we need to battle if we are to treat others well.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
Most of the discussion questions in this Guide can serve as writing prompts. Additional assignments include:
1. Write a summary of one of the storylines woven through Crash. For the character that you choose, describe whether they have learned anything through the experiences shown in the film. Have they learned not to be prejudiced?
2. DuBois wrote of the black individual in America saying, “He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.” Write an analysis of how the character of Cameron Thayer shows the conflict between how a man sees himself and how others see him.
3. Using Countee Cullen’s poem “Incident” as a hook, write an essay about the concept of “hate speech” and prepare an oral presentation that details the history of the concept as well as the conflicts that have arisen with the First Amendment. Research will be necessary for you to find examples of specific cases that have become known to the public and any policies that have been developed to deal with the problem. Conclude your presentation with the admonition against hate speech that is in place at your school.
4. Crash contains several examples of “profiling.” Research information about how profiling comes into play in social interactions. Write an essay in which you show how profiling is a central problem in Crash. Give examples from the film and be sure to include groups other than African Americans in your choices. Conclude your essay with suggestions about how to mitigate the problems associated with profiling.
5. Write a personal narrative about an experience that centered on prejudice either in your town or your school that was especially ironic in the outcome. Look carefully to what may have been intended by the participants in the event and what resulted. For example, on the first day in a new class, you may have sought to find a seat far away from a fellow student who appeared Middle Eastern or Goth or Gay and then later became good friends with the individual. You may have avoided a particular restaurant in your community because of the clientele and then later discovered its charms. Show in your narrative what you learned as you indicate the irony of expectation and outcome.
In your narrative describe the action (including dialogue), reveal thoughts (including internal monologues), describe observations by the characters, use descriptive language (including images of people, places and things), and compare one thing to another.
CCSS ANCHOR STANDARDS
Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.
Reading: Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.
Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.
Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.
LEARNING GUIDE MENU:
RANDALL KENNEDY, Professor, Harvard Law School on the two alternative traditions relating to racism in America:
“I say that the best way to address this issue is to address it forthrightly, and straightforwardly, and embrace the complicated history and the complicated presence of America. On the one hand, that’s right, slavery, and segregation, and racism, and white supremacy is deeply entrenched in America. At the same time, there has been a tremendous alternative tradition, a tradition against slavery, a tradition against segregation, a tradition against racism.
I mean, after all in the past 25 years, the United States of America has seen an African-American presence. As we speak, there is an African-American vice president. As we speak, there’s an African- American who is in charge of the Department of Defense. So we have a complicated situation. And I think the best way of addressing our race question is to just be straightforward, and be clear, and embrace the tensions, the contradictions, the complexities of race in American life. I think we need actually a new vocabulary.
So many of the terms we use, we use these terms over and over, starting with racism, structural racism, critical race theory. These words actually have been weaponized. They are vehicles for propaganda. I think we would be better off if we were more concrete, we talked about real problems, and we actually used a language that got us away from these overused terms that actually don’t mean that much. From Fahreed Zakaria, Global Public Square, CNN, December 26, 2021
Give your students new perspectives on race relations, on the history of the American Revolution, and on the contribution of the Founding Fathers to the cause of representative democracy. Check out TWM’s Guide: TWO CONTRASTING TRADITIONS RELATING TO RACISM IN AMERICA and a Tragic Irony of the American Revolution: the Sacrifice of Freedom for the African-American Slaves on the Altar of Representative Democracy.
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